Fire Rescue Victoria
Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV) is a future fire service in Victoria, Australia. From 2020, it will replace the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) as the Melbourne urban firefighting service, and absorb the professional brigades of the Country Fire Authority (CFA) on the outskirts of Melbourne and in major regional Victorian towns. FRV will be led by a Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner, and will be the employer of all career firefighters in Victoria, leaving the CFA composed of volunteer brigades managed by seconded FRV staff.
The origins of the service created significant political controversy. The reforms were supported by the Australian Labor Party led by Premier Daniel Andrews and the United Firefighters Union, representing the majority of MFB firefighters. It was opposed by CFA volunteers and their representative organisation Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria (VFBV), former fire chiefs and former ALP Premiers as well as former Minister for Emergency Services Andre Haermyer. The lead QC of the 2009 Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission, Jack Rush QC also opposed the reform, as did the Liberal Party. A bill authorising the creation of FRV was rejected by the Parliament of Victoria in 2017, but passed on a second attempt in 2019.
Victoria has been serviced by the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and Country Fire Authority since the 1950s. Following the Black Saturday bushfires, the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission (2009 VBRC) recommended that a Fire Commissioner be appointed to advise on the boundary between the two services, the Metropolitan Fire District. The 2009 VBRC also recommended strengthening the CFA's integrated model, in which paid and volunteer firefighters train, locate and respond together using the same equipment and training.
The genesis for the proposal to split paid and volunteer firefighters, creating two separate services where the integrated turnout model would no long apply, was to resolve an industrial dispute arising from Enterprise Bargaining Agreement negotiations between the CFA (and separately the MFB) and the UFU. These negotiations, which started in 2014 and were still causing problems for the government in 2017, raised objections by VFBV, volunteers, the leaders of the fire services themselves and the Minister for Emergency Services at the time, Jane Garrett MP, who resigned rather than support a deal she said was "unworkable". The key objections related to concerns that the EBA would significantly disadvantage CFA volunteers and the ability of the CFA Chief Officer to manage them, and the powers of the Chief Officer. Statements by the CEOs and Chief Officers of the CFA and MFB, Emergency Management Victoria, VFBV and others at the Select Committee into the Bill canvassed serious concerns about the impact of the EBA and said that splitting the fire services to resolve an industrial dispute would compromise public safety.https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/images/Fire_Services_Bill/transcripts/1.FINAL-VFBVRush.pdf
In an attempt to protect volunteer firefighters, in October 2016 the Australian Federal government passed amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009. These amendments were to prevent any enterprise bargaining agreement terms that "[affect] the ability of an organisation to engage, deploy, support, equip or manage its volunteers". The Government of Victoria stated that creating an enterprise agreement while maintaining a combined career and volunteer firefighting service would be very difficult without such terms.
Subsequently, on 19 May 2017, Premier Daniel Andrews and Minister for Emergency Services James Merlino announced changes to the Victorian Fire Services. The proposed reform was developed by government bureaucrats behind closed doors - neither the Chief Officers, CEOs or Boards of the CFA or MFB were consulted on the development, and neither was the Emergency Management Commissioner. It was publicly released only a day after the fire services themselves were informed and no material changes were made to the proposal before it was passed by Parliament despite significant concerns raised by those parties in public, in the Select Committee and the Parliamentary "Inquiry into Fire Season Readiness". A website explaining the changes states "Fire Rescue Victoria – will bring together MFB and CFA career firefighters to serve metropolitan Melbourne and major regional centres." It is expected to a number of years to fully implement these changes.
Fire District Review Panel
Following the creation of Fire Rescue Victoria, the Victorian Government will establish the Fire District Review Panel. The panel will regularly review the Metropolitan Fire District and advise the Minister for Emergency Services on any changes to be made. The Minister will have the final decision to change the district boundaries. Currently, the Metropolitan Fire District is established by the Metropolitan Fire Brigades Act 1958. Any change to the district boundaries must either be by amendment to the act or by request of a municipal council. The district boundaries have not changed since the 1950s, although the capability to do this has existed in the CFA legislation, as has the ability to increase resources where needed using a scaling system to increase resources to support volunteers in urban centres. This scaling up has been removed under the reform and the only model allowed in future is either a fully volunteer or a fully career fire station, with no more integrated training and response which was endorsed (and recommended be strengthened) in the VBRC.
Emergency Services Infrastructure Authority
The Emergency Services Infrastructure Authority (ESIA) will be established following Fire Rescue Victoria. ESIA will oversee planning, project management, procurement, construction of new fire stations and upgrades to existing stations. It will oversee a $44m station building program for the CFA.
Transitioning CFA stations
Part of the change is to transition 35 CFA stations to Fire Rescue Victoria. These stations currently house both career and volunteer firefighters. The career firefighters will become part of Fire Rescue Victoria. The Government and CFA will work with volunteers to identify the best solution for volunteers at each brigade.
Failure to pass legislation
The legislation was presented to the Victorian Upper house just before Easter 2018, and led to a record sitting to allow it to pass, including controversy over pairing of a cross bench member and accusations the Government was using the absence of a sick MP, an independent who was the casting vote on the legislation, to push through a vote in her absence by extending the sitting into Good Friday, which had never happened before. The legislation was defeated on the third reading on Easter Sunday. The bill is described as a "Disputed Bill" and can be considered after the next election by a committee known as the Dispute Resolution Committee in line with the Constitutional (Parliamentary Reform) Act 2003.
The latest MFB EBA has been passed by Fair Work Australia, and is anticipated to be the template for the new FRV EBA. The EBA continues to contain the provisions that concerned its opponents and continues to concern them given FRV staff will transfer their industrial arrangements when seconded to CFA, raising concerns that those provisions will still impact the volunteers. While not mentioned in the 2019/2020 Victorian State Budget, a rise in the Fire Services Levy of 10% is widely anticipated in response to a rise in paid staff numbers, despite a previous government promise the levy would be frozen for two years after implementation. This levy is paid by all landholders and businesses in Victoria, with the country areas not being served by FRV being levied at a higher rate. The State Budget included an efficiency dividend of $1.8B across the public service, and it is unknown what the impact on FRV will be.
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